Through the Wire


Contributors: R. Thomas Umstead, Ted Hearn, Matt Stump.

How Jodie Foster’s 'Flightplan’ Changed

The biggest paparazzi moment at Disney Channel’s Thanksgiving Eve party at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History occurred when actress and director Jodie Foster posed on a little stage with people dressed up like channel characters JoJo the circus clown and her lion pal, Goliath.

So how did Disney entice her to come and hobnob with the likes of company retinues Cynthia McFadden (of ABC’s Nightline), John Tartaglia (Disney Channel’s Johnny and the Sprites) and teen pop stars Aly & A.J. (16-year-old Alyson and 14-year-old Amanda Joy Michalka, who recorded Do You Believe in Magic for the channel’s movie Now You See It)?

Well, Foster’s latest thrill flick, Flightplan, was distributed by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures.

But the real reason is: flying from West Coast to East last week, Gary Marsh, the entertainment president for Disney Channel Worldwide, ended up seated across the aisle from Foster and one of her two sons, spokespeople told the Wire. They got to chatting about what her kids watched, and Marsh invited Foster and family to the party on 81st Street and Columbus Avenue, celebrating the giant JoJo’s Circus balloon that was inflating nearby for its debut in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Partygoers said Foster’s good time had one rocky moment, though, when a fan walked up to her from behind, tapped her on the shoulder and started the “excuse me, Ms. Foster, but I’m a big fan” routine. The startled actress dropped her glass, momentarily shattering the party’s calm but adding an anecdote for celebrity watchers.

Channel to Comcast: Carriage or Lawsuit

In cable’s version of David and Goliath, independent music network Southern Entertainment Television has given Comcast Corp. an ultimatum: Carry the channel or face a lawsuit for breaching a long-standing carriage agreement.

The Florida-based, gospel-themed service says Comcast has failed to distribute the network as per a carriage agreement SET reached with Tele-Communications Inc. in the mid 1990s. TCI sold out to AT&T Corp., which later sold its cable holdings to Comcast.

SET president Harold Brown said Comcast inherited its carriage deal when it bought AT&T and has an obligation to carry the service. In a tersely written letter addressed to the MSO Nov. 17, SET says that it will sue Comcast “on or about” Dec. 19 to force the issue on carriage.

“Comcast has knowingly, intentionally, willfully and wantonly with malice aforethought unreasonably restrained the ability of me and my company to compete fairly by discriminating in programming distribution on the basis of affiliation,” Brown said in the letter, provided to The Wire.

Why Dec. 19? Brown says that’s his birthday. So the choice is: birthday present to him from Comcast or undesirable holiday gift from him to the biggest U.S. cable distributor.

A Comcast spokeswoman confirmed SET’s legacy carriage deal, but would not comment about plans to carry the service or about any potential lawsuit.

Note to CNBC Anchor: Cable Shuns 'M’ Word

The Wire sometimes finds it amazing how many people draw a paycheck from the pay TV industry while remaining clueless about some basic industry facts.

Take, for example, CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. While interviewing The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib last Tuesday morning about Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s interest in cable a la carte programming, she offered a few comments that might have baffled viewers that receive CNBC courtesy of satellite providers DirecTV or Dish Network.

“My gripe about the cable companies has been, for a long time, that they still essentially have monopolies,” said Caruso- Cabrera, whose Wake Up Call program is available in 22 million satellite homes. “They’ve argued that because of the expense for the infrastructure that they absolutely have to have that monopoly. It really irks me.”

To the extent she was talking about the absence of a second cable company in local markets, she had a point. But the idea of cable having a legally protected monopoly is absurd, because federal law bans exclusive franchising. Just ask any Verizon spokesman — who just might volunteer that its nascent “FiOS TV” service has a carriage deal with NBC to distribute … CNBC.